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Volume 0517
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The Many Worlds of
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Presents

At the Core of Mars
By 
Seth Kallen Deitch
Copyright 1999 S.K. Deitch


Chapter 7
The Natives
 
We spent some time on Penshodai attempting to catalog animals and plants in hopes of making some sense out of the strange natural history of Dhaimira. While the great majority of animals were either Barsomian or Terrestrial, as well as native Dhaimiran, there were also examples of creatures from Amtor and some which simply didn't easily fit into any biology that I knew about. On one day we saw a tribe of vagas crossing the savanna. Unlike my dear friend Man-tan-ko, these vagas went about nearly nude and were armed with heavy clubs. While it was possible that they might have been able to give us valuable information, they also looked dangerous enough that approaching them would have been imprudent.

So far, of the intelligent life we had encountered in Dhaimira, only the darmayoks had shown us any civility therefore we were quite cautious no matter how much our curiosity might be piqued.

A few days before we were expecting to put out to sea again, we saw a remarkable sight. The tribe of vagas was again on the grassland beyond the forest, but on this occasion, they had strange creatures mounted on their backs. It was Tamla who reached the correct conclusion before I did.

"The vagas are slaves to those creatures." She said.

The vaga is a sentient being native to Vah-Nah which closely resembles the centaurs of Earthly myth. When humans first encountered them, they were barbarian tribes who survived on the nearly dead planes of Vah-Nah by cannibalism. That was centuries ago when that world was close to absolute death right before the Kalkar invasion of Earth. When Earth men returned to Vah-Nah, a program of wholesale land reclamation and irrigation along with many imported plants and animals restored that little world to something like its former glory. Today, the vagas are a farming and herding people who reap the rewards of the now rich soil of Vah-Nah. In Dhaimira, they apparently played a different role.

The creatures that were mounted on the vagas were unlike almost anything either Tamla or I had ever seen. Each one was more or less the size of a man and in that way alone they resembled humans. The body was a flexible cylinder that appeared to have no bony frame at all, for it seemed to be able to bend in any direction. There were eight tentacle-like limbs, the lower four of which served as legs while the upper four served as arms. The limbs were arranged in pairs that worked so closely together that they gave the appearance of having only two arms and two legs. The legs ended in oval pads while the arms terminated with pliant, spatulate manipulators resembling nothing so much as they did the trunk of an elephant. Each "hand" had three jointless fingers. The head was round and rather smaller looking than it seemed it ought to be. There was no mouth, a pair of openings near the top which I thought must be ears and a recessed circle in the center of the face which contained three eyes. This head was set on a neck that could vary amazingly in length to the point that the creature could stretch to half again its height. They had brilliant pink skin that darkened to deep blue at the ends of the limbs and the top of the head. They wore clothing that was in rich colors and decorated with precious stones.

Looking upon these creatures, I realized that they bore the same relationship to the "squid-apes" that we had seen in Keltrolna, as do Earth men to the great apes of Africa.

As they coursed along the moss covered plain, they were accompanied by a mob of smaller creatures which dashed between the legs of the vagas. They were eight legged and had a behavior similar to that of hunting hounds. Loud honking calls issued from them, perhaps to help them find their way about with echoes like a bat, for they had no eyes. In my mind I named them "horn-dogs."

Although we took pains to remain hidden, the "horn-dogs" became aware of our presence and alerted the riders by pointing in the same manner as a dog from my home world might. The creatures turned their vaga mounts and galloped toward our hiding place. We turned to run only to find one of the hound-like horrors behind us. It blared a loudly raucous note and we were soon flushed into the open and surrounded by the riders.

Tamla drew her sword, but I signaled her to put it away. She understood. We were greatly outnumbered and she was not John Carter. Between us there was but a single sword. The mounted beings had what looked enough like weapons to warrant caution. They had not the sheen of steel, but swords still hung at their belts, as did peculiar triple barreled pistols. They appeared to be fabricated from some sort of stone.

Without protest we allowed one of the riderless vagas to lift us to his back with the knowledge that any other action could well cost us dearly.

One of the riders gave a curt order in a language I had never heard before and the entire party was in motion amidst the blaring and hooting of the horn-dogs. We were underway for most of an hour (as nearly as I could tell) when we reached a grouping of buildings which resembled in shape, but not size, a number of different sized kegs standing on end.

The buildings were made from the same glossy material as the weapons. We were carried into one of the smaller buildings and deposited in a room where another of the tentacled creatures awaited us.

It looked us over speculatively, making a rather personal examination of the two of us. At one point, Tamla decided that the exam had become far too intrusive and drew her sword. A tentacle flashed almost faster than the eye could see to snatch the weapon from her hand.

"Steel," it said in clear Barsoomian. Its voice sounded like it was spoken by a hive full of bees.

Tamla gave a low, animalistic growl and made as if to leap at the creature. I held her back.

The creature continued. "This is enough steel to buy this city. You would do better for yourself in Dhaimira to sell it rather than fight with it."

"The value of good Heliumite steel," said Tamla, "is beyond any number of tanpi."

The creature made a strange sound, almost like a mechanical meshing of gears. Apparently this was its equivalent of a chuckle. "You should know that you are the guests of the Yan of Kotab."

"Kotab? Is that the name of your people?"

"We are called doyaks. Kotab is the only remaining doyak nation since the coming of Savjoda. We exist only as a small population now, but once, Dhaimira was our world."

I saw an oportunity to get more information about Savjoda. "Did he wipe out your people?"

"My people were almost extinct when Savjoda came. It was we who he first contacted in Dhaimira. He arrived in this world alone and naked and became its ruler and brought a nearly dead world back to life! The price has been that we have had to endure all of these alien creatures. They were necessary though, because so many of the Dhaimiran species had died out that life no longer had balance in Dhaimira, our world was in its last days. Savjoda now speaks of restoring the world which he says is above ours."

"Have you met this Savjoda?" I asked.

"It was at this very hive that he first appeared."

The creature continued to examine us and in the course of this examination, we discovered that its name was Fomas-67. "Fomas" apparently signified physician. He spoke several languages, a discipline which would have been unheard of on Barsoom. Barsoom has no linguists for the language of the surface world is universal and has been for thousands upon thousands of years. Fomas-67 spoke his native tongue as well as Barsoomian and to my surprise, the modern language of Earth as well as several dead languages such as French, English and a number of more obscure tongues from Asia (Chinese, Japanese and Malay) and Africa (Mande, Ibo, Bantu, Waziri). He also had some Amtorian as well as Kalkar and Vaga. How he knew these languages was mystery enough, but the question of why was even more so. Apparently this Savjoda was well traveled in the solar system and had shared much knowledge with the doyaks.

Fomas-67 proved to be rather cordial. He had no axe to grind with us, he merely was under orders to examine any unusual life that his people came in contact with. Savjoda insisted that the doyaks do this because of their scientific turn of mind. They were in fact, a good deal more intelligent than human beings. There was a reason for this, the doyaks had a brain that grew for their entire life and that lifetime was usually several thousand years. Fomas-67 was relatively young at fifteen hundred years.

I was curious as to how they kept track of time without any astronomical references.

"We created an artificial unit of time and built the Master Clock. It does more than merely keep track of passing time. It also can alter the relationship between time and space. A copy of the Master Clock is at the heart of Savjoda s mechanism for opening the roads between the worlds."

Tamla asked, How can a clock do that?

Fomas-67 answered patiently. The sun of our world is sort of a hole in space and time. Our scientists have found that any body of mass that is heavy enough will engender a doorway in space at its center of mass. The Moon of Earth is about the smallest a body can be to have this effect take place. The opening leads to the center of the greatest mass within a particular grouping of bodies such as our solar system. In ours, that body is the Sun. As the worlds condensed from the primordial nebula they developed extra-dimensional openings into the center of what would become the Sun. When the Sun ignited there was a sudden flash of energy into those dimensional doorways. The primordial planets first melted from the heat and then swelled like balloons from expanding gasses until the interior of the bubbles had retreated far enough from the source of heat to cool back to a solid shell. This is how the worlds we know today were born. In the fullness of time, life was germinated on one or both surfaces of the bubble planets.

I freely admit that my mouth hung open upon hearing this. For centuries, the greatest minds of Earth, Barsoom and Amtor had devised theory upon theory to explain the entirety of the observed solar system, but all had seemingly insuperable flaws. When Pellucidar was discovered, Albert Einstein declared the existence of the internal sun flatly impossible and the internal world violated the predicted behavior of gravity in the light of his studies, thus he was obliged to start from scratch. He never arrived at a satisfactory theory to account for Pellucidar. By the time Vah-Nah was discovered Einstein was long dead, but the questions raised by the internal worlds were more alive than ever. For almost a thousand years it had remained one of the greatest mysteries of science, but the doyaks had known all along.

Savjoda was in the world called Pellucidar when he discovered that the direction of the doorways could be turned. We had known about it for quite some time and had used that fact to the advantage of our world. Our first experiment was to bring the Jasoomian, John Carter to the surface of Barsoom. We knew that he was the person who would ultimately save that world from total environmental collapse. We needed a similar person in Dhaimira and would have brought one here, but because the roads let us see through time and space, we knew that he was going to find his way here on his own. That person was Savjoda.

Tamla now asked, How did you even know about other worlds if your race never saw the stars?

Again, Fomas-67 made the strange grinding gears sound. My race is not native to Dhaimira, although we have been here for many millions of years. We are descended from a colony from the world that was once known as Otala. Their civilization occupied both the inner and the outer surface of their world. It was the Otalans who first discovered how to redirect the space/time road at the center of the world. We believe that shortly after the colony was placed here, Otalan scientists started to experiment with varying the size of the road. Apparently, they succeeded to a greater degree than planned and the sun was suddenly greatly expanded in power. In less than a second, a civilization millions of years old was wiped out when the entire planet simply exploded. The remnants of Otala are the asteroids which orbit between Barsoom and Eurobus.

We could have asked Fomas-67 questions for hours, nay, days hed we been allowed to, but it was not to be, at least for the moment. Two other doyaks appeared at the door to inform Fomas-67 that Savjoda had been informed of our presence and wanted us conveyed to him at once.

BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE

To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0518
Chapter Eight
Things I didn't Know were Happening

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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Volume 0517

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